Formula 1 2017 team preview: Scuderia Ferrari

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Formula 1’s oldest and most successful team, Scuderia Ferrari, enters 2017 after a rare, barren season that yielded not a single victory.

The new regime at Maranello enjoyed a strong start in 2015 with three race wins, only for the honeymoon to end last season as Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen struggled to handle the pace of the rival Mercedes and Red Bull drivers.

Despite 2016’s struggles, Ferrari had one of the most impressive pre-seasons in recent memory, lighting up the timesheets in Barcelona – but will it be enough for a title challenge?

DRIVERS

5. Sebastian Vettel (Germany)
7. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland)

CAR

Ferrari SF70H

ENGINE

Ferrari 062

TEAM CHIEFS

Maurizio Arrivabene (team principal)
Mattia Binotto (technical director)

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 10: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF70H on track during the final day of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 10, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

What went right in 2016: Not a huge amount. Ferrari’s early-season pace was impressive and it was able to challenge Mercedes on occasion – notably in Australia and Canada – but this faded away. Sebastian Vettel produced some impressive late-season displays in Mexico and Abu Dhabi. Otherwise, positives were pretty hard to find for the Italian marque.

What went wrong in 2016: Ferrari’s best chances for victory came early in the year, only for strategic blunders to cost Vettel a shot at winning in both Australia and Canada. As the season wore on, frustration bubbled away and the cracks began to show in the famed partnership with Sebastian Vettel. Every time Mercedes crumbled, it was Red Bull who took advantage, not Ferrari. The loss of James Allison midway through the year also didn’t help matters.

What’s changed for 2017: Instead of recruiting externally to replace Allison, engineer Mattia Binotto was promoted into Ferrari’s top technical role. Otherwise, things have been fairly stable at Maranello. Ferrari’s pre-season pace caught attention, and it appears the SF70H is a good car – that in itself is a huge, huge change for 2017. The SF16-H was noticeably tricky to drive. Already progress is clear.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: While a championship challenge will be the expectation from the Tifosi, the first target for Ferrari this year should be getting back in winner’s circle. Both Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen have what it takes to win races – we’ve seen time and time again – and if they can carry the winter pace through to the season, and if the operational issues from 2016 are resolved, then we could see Ferrari back in the mix for another F1 crown.

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 09: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF70H on track during day three of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 9, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

MST PREDICTIONS

Luke Smith: A strong Ferrari is good for F1, such is its global presence and reputation. So if pre-season is anything to go by, 2017 could be a very good year for F1 indeed. James Allison may have left the team, but the SF70H is very much a beast of his creation. Both Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen were rapid and reliable through pre-season, suffering just a handful of on-track issues. While I think Ferrari could have the march on the field early on, I don’t think it will last the season. Vettel will win a few races, and I think even Kimi could score his first Ferrari victory since 2009, but the race will be against Red Bull to finish second in the constructors’.

Tony DiZinno: The need for success is desperate here, after a lackluster and underwhelming 2016 season. If you put a lot of stock in testing times, it’s great to be seeing Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen at the top of the charts. But they have been in testing before, and it hasn’t translated. A return to winning must be the first goal, along with getting a car that is sorted enough to contend for podiums regularly. Far too often podiums were a surprise, not expected, last season.

Kyle Lavigne: Scuderia Ferrari represents possibly the biggest unknown ahead of the 2017 campaign. To put it simply, the SF70H is fast. Actually, correction: the SF70H is very fast. Between Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari topped four of the eight testing days in Barcelona. The fastest time across the test came from Raikkonen, who turned a 1:18.634. Who was the driver he beat for the fastest overall time? Teammate Sebastian Vettel.

However, Ferrari were also quick in last year’s pre-season testing, but their season quickly unraveled and they finished a distant third in the constructor’s championship. If their “real world” pace matches their testing pace, then Ferrari has all the potential to supplant Mercedes at the top of the grid.

Jenson Button joins NASCAR Garage 56 at Le Mans with Jimmie Johnson, Rockenfeller

Jenson Button NASCAR Le Mans
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Garage 56 entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be driven by champions of three major-league series — Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The lineup of the Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Next Gen Camaro was announced Saturday before the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

NASCAR’s Garage 56 project was announced in March 2022 as a joint effort by NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear. It marks the return of a NASCAR team to Le Mans for the first time in nearly 50 years with Hendrick fielding a Camaro ZL1 as the “Garage 56” entry in the 100th edition of the sports car classic.

It’s long been expected the car would include Johnson, the seven-time Cup Series champion who is returning to NASCAR’s premier series as a driver-owner in 2023. Rockenfeller, the 2013 DTM champion and 2010 Le Mans overall winner, has attended every NASCAR Garage 56 test since last year while racking up simulator testing hours.

The surprise was Button, the 2009 Formula One champion who has become a popular commentator. Rick Hendrick initially said wanted four-time Cup champion and current Hendrick Motorsports COO Jeff Gordon to drive the car, and Gordon had raced a sports car at Indianapolis last year to test his race shape.

GARAGE 56 ANSWERS, ANALYSISMore on the NASCAR-Hendrick entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans

“Since the beginning of the Garage 56 project, it has been our goal to partner with the top racers in the world to represent us in Le Mans,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said in a release. “The lineup of Jimmie, ‘Rocky’ and Jenson is everything we could have dreamed of – three elite drivers who have won at the highest levels of motorsports worldwide. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, we are honored to have these world-class champions help bring the sights and sounds of a NASCAR race car to fans in Le Mans, and across the world.”

Button had one of the most prolific careers in F1 history finishing with 15 wins and 50 podiums on top of his 2009 World Championship and is widely considered one of the top British drivers of all time.

“As a lifelong racing fan, I have always dreamed of racing certain cars, with and against certain drivers and competing in certain events,” Button said in a release. “In June, a number of those dreams will come true in one event when I get to bring NASCAR to the world stage alongside my pals Jimmie and ‘Rocky’ for the 100th anniversary of the most prestigious race in the world. I’m really looking forward to sharing this journey with NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and current and future NASCAR fans from around the world.”

Johnson will make his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut a year after starting his first Indy 500. He has 83 victories in the Cup Series, where he will return for the Daytona 500 next month with his Legacy Motor Club team.

He also has been involved with testing the Garage 56 Camaro.

“I’m super thrilled – it’s been at the top of my bucket list to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans someday,” Johnson said. “To have this opportunity come – and to partner with everybody and this driver lineup – is truly an incredible opportunity and one that I am thankful to be a part of.”

Rockenfeller teamed with Johnson on the No. 48 Ally Cadillac in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2021-22. The German driver has been the lead test driver for Garage 56 and has driven during every on-track test.

“It has been a great journey so far with the whole team and project,” Rockenfeller said. “To be involved as a driver from day one until now was already a great honor, and to now have Jimmie and Jenson alongside me as teammates in Le Mans is unbelievable.”

The car will continue testing with all three drivers next week at the Daytona International Speedway road course. Rolex 24 and four-time IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, who drives for Corvette Racing, will be the team’s backup driver and coach. Taylor also won the GTE Pro class in 2015 at Le Mans, where he has four podium finishes.

The project also is being supported by IMSA GTP team Action Express, whose general manager is former NASCAR executive and Daytona 500-winning crew chief Gary Nelson. Action Express built the first test car for the Garage 56 but since has handed off the project to Hendrick, where it’s being over seen by vice president of competition Chad Knaus (the crew chief for Johnson’s seven championships).

“Action Express got it going and built the mule car, and then Hendrick joined the program, took it from where we had it, and they’re doing a major percentage of the work,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “We just did a test a couple months ago on a wet track. We’ve done a couple of other tests as they were ramping their program up. Now their car is good, tested and running. We’re still involved and here to help. The Hendrick guys have taken the reins, and Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus are a thrill to work with and doing a much better job. It’s more NASCAR than prototype racing.”